|Sandro Botticelli from his painting|
Adoration of the Magi
In the visual arts section of the class, I focused on Van Gogh, the Impressionists, and the Renaissance. To be able to dig deeper into art history has been fascinating. I've flirted with the visual arts a good deal of my life, but other focuses took priority, so it's felt like I get a second chance to really explore an alternate reality I could have been a part of. With the research I have been doing to teach the class, I feel like I am learning as much as I am teaching, which is always a thrilling place to be as an artist and an educator.
No matter how thrilled I have been learning more about art history, however, I have come to learn that not everyone shares my enthusiasm. In the essay section of the test I administered to my students yesterday, one of them articulately explained how she had "lost all respect" for the Renaissance after learning more about it. Her essay was actually very well argued, with persuasive language, logic, and history to back her up. She criticized the Renaissance for being "godless" (ironically, since most of the world's greatest religious art comes from this period), chipping away at society's morals, and indulging in pagan fancies. She took particular issue with artists like Sandro Botticelli and Donatello, as well as the Medici clan, the most powerful patrons of the Renaissance. Part of this criticism, in part, came from her reaction to a section of a documentary we watched in class about the Medicis from the Empires series produced by PBS (which I highly recommend).
|Adoration of the Magi by Sandro Botticelli|
Looking specifically at Sandro Botticelli, it's easy to see why strongly religious students like this young woman who wrote the essay may have conflicted feeling about the Renaissance. Although Botticelli did religious paintings, some considered him insincere. If you take in account paintings like Adoration of the Magi, in which Botticelli paints the Magi coming to adore the infant Jesus and his holy family, then its tempting to see it as pure religious fervor. However, when you know that the multitude of people surrounding Jesus (and who are in the forefront of the painting) are the Medici clan and all their most prominent friends (including Botticelli, who paints himself as part of the Medici's inner circle), then the painting seems less like devotion, and more like sucking up to a powerful patron.